NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Corrupt police officers could use new anti-gay laws passed in some African countries to extort money from people by falsely accusing them of being homosexual, respected Harvard academic Calestous Juma wrote on his FaceBook page, saying he was speaking from personal experience.
Juma, a Kenyan who is Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the new laws threaten everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, as they increase opportunities for corruption.
“My conscience and personal experience advise against silence. This is because in the hands of determined corrupt officials I cannot prove that I am not gay,” he said. “Because of the public stigma attached to being gay, the laws can be used to extract false confessions and bribes.”
Uganda's parliament passed a law on Dec. 20 that makes some homosexual acts punishable by life in prison, prohibiting the "promotion" of gay rights and punishing anyone who "funds", "sponsors" or "abets" homosexuality. President Yoweri Museveni, caught between conservative Ugandans opposed to homosexuality and Western aid donors critical of the bill, has said he wants it shelved for further study.
On Jan. 13, Nigeria signed into law a ban on gay marriage, same-sex "amorous relationships" and membership of gay rights groups, with penalties of up to 14 years in prison.
Juma wrote on his Facebook page that two Kenyan policemen had threatened to arrest him at one point in the 1980s when he and a Swedish visitor were heading to a hotel to pick up the man’s luggage en route to the airport.
“One of the officers pulled me aside and said if we didn't give them some money they would arrest us and we would be charged for breaking the law on homosexuality,” Juma wrote. “Suddenly it dawned on me that I could not prove that I was not a male prostitute. Where there is stigma a charge is the punishment, no further proof is needed to inflict injury.”
They gave the policeman the money he demanded, leaving Juma with no money to take a taxi home.
“My worst memory of the encounter was being forced by the policemen to shake hands saying we gave them the money in good faith,” he said.
Homosexuality is taboo in many African countries, and is illegal in 37 African nations. Few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and loss of their jobs.
“Africa's better days lie with a more tolerant future, not a past world that seeks to have a stranglehold on society by globalising hate and entrenching it in national legislation,” Juma wrote.